New York Dolls @ the Gothic Theatre - Reverb - Reverb

New York Dolls @ the Gothic Theatre


“Move along, folks… nothing to see here.”

There is an inherent risk in reuniting legendary bands. There is a long list of pitfalls and tempting clichés that often ruin the experience for the audience and diminish the legacy of the group. More often than not the desire to relive former glory days over take the good sense to let the past speak for itself.

This is especially true for bands that have taken lengthy hiatus’ before taking the stage once again. This does not mean that it can’t be done; bands like Dinosaur Jr. and the Stooges have recently launched reunion tours that lived up to their legend and proved their legacy and influence is well deserved. This is unfortunately not true about the New York Dolls.

The band, which played the Gothic Theatre on Tuesday, not only have their influence as one of the founding bands of puck rock to live up to, they also have the disadvantage of being without enigmatic guitarist Johnny Thunders, who was both the songwriter and emotional leader. Thunders died of drug-related causes in 1991. The only two surviving members — David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain — are the bulk of the reunion, though the late Arthur “Killer” Kane was part of another reunion at the U.K.’s Meltdown Festival in 2004.

Although the Dolls are considered forefathers of a genre that touts an anti-establishment attitude as a major tenant, Dodge sponsored the tour, complete with a new Jeep outside the venue and giant flags lining the street. The feel of the show was one of nostalgia and the crowd was willing to ignore the obvious contradictions. Most of the concertgoers where older, with a sprinkling of young crusty punks with Dead Kennedys patches on the back of their leather jackets. I could not help thinking somewhere Johnny was shooting up in his grave. The crowd never filled out and the capacity was three quarters full at best.


“We look good, yes? No?”

We Are the Fury was the young opening band never quite got its influences off its shirtsleeves, though I enjoyed the David Bowie and Mott the Hoople rip-offs toward the end of their set verses the Heartbreakers sound-alikes at the start. The sound was off all night, which was accentuated by the overly loud synthesizer that never quite found its place in the songs.

Once the Dolls took the stage the vibe of the room was excited and, despite all the surrounding bad decisions, replacement guitar player Steve Conte actually tried to look like Thunders, which seemed inappropriate and even sacrilegious. Despite these issues the crowed embraced the Dolls like it was ’73 at CBGB all over again, including hits like “Pills,” “Babylon” and “Personality Crisis.”

After the initial excitement of hearing and seeing the reformed band, the set seemed to drag on and new songs where lost on the majority of the room. However, everything could be forgiven, even Sylvain’s canned banter with Johansen, stage antics that would make the E-Street Band feel cheesy, and the fact that they started their own chant during the encore.

The show was by no means a great one. The band came off like a cover act of their former selves, but the Dolls (save Thunders) never completely understood their place or influence in the royal lineage of rock. They were never the brightest, the best, or the most aware band. They were simply the most fun, and still are in their special way.

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  • Artanis

    A….did you even attend this gig? Surely, you must have been face down at the bar. Because there are so many things here that is pure BS. Conte has had his “look” for many years, and in no way resembled Thunders. The Fury were super hot. Young, tight, melodic, lot’s of energy, a unique sound. David Bowie / Mott The Hoople rip-offs? Where did you get that?

    The Dolls. In no way, at any time, did the show drag. It was more than I expected. After watching the Dolls on PBS Soundstage and being blown away, then seeing them live and it was even better, I just can’t imagine how you could post what you did. They were spot on. The band was smoking hot. And you could tell all night long just how much fun they were having and how much they loved the audience. I was very surprised at the energy level of David & crew. He was on fire!

    There was no risk to this reunion. David & Sylvain did an excellent job recruiting the right players to fit the bill. This reunion was long over due.
    And if you have two heavyweights like David & Sylvain, but everyone else is gone, why not pull it off if you can pull it off. Oh yea….they pulled it off all right. Off the hook.

    By the way, they’re GLAM…..not punk.

    Go see this show people. I promise you, these guys will blow your socks off.

  • Artanis

    Regarding the Fury;

    After going back and listening to their music, yes there is hints of Bowie & Mott. I apologize. But it’s more the actual tone of the singers voice. His voice is a bit weird. And maybe even influenced. But a blatant rip-off of Bowie or Hoople?
    I disagree.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe it is just me and that I am an old geezer but since I grew up in the lower east side and saw the dolls numerous times maybe my opinion might mean something.
    With the fresh new young band the Dolls brought new life to old songs.
    I wasn’t wondering if Johnny would show up or was still shooting up.
    And the Joplin cover rocked.
    Glad I am not a young newbie music critic and can still appreciate talent when I hear it.
    Maybe you should listen to the fugees

  • steve wilson

    Dear God, where to start. Having seen the Dolls twice in the past three months, I have to wonder what show this scribe saw. His less than trenchant pop sociological asides, well, aside, the real problem is that the current pop climate has no more room for the Dolls than it did in 1973. Today, a band that thrives on deep and varied rock roots, and a band that exudes a playful sexuality is lost in a scene dominated at one end by neutered Pitchfork crap and by cod-testosterone post-Metal nonsense on the other. Just because some thirty something writer who doesn’t appreciate that CBGB’s was not even in existence in 1973 (duh!) of course has a hard time digging a band that incorporates girl group sound, Chicago blues, and hard rock into their seamless, smart, and fun(ny) music. The Arcade Fire groupies don’t know, but the rock and rollers understand.

  • punkkid

    These guys arnt gothic are they tripin?

  • Jeff

    Plus, not to be pedantic, but CBGB only first opened in 1973, and the first NY Dolls show there was not until 2006 with the reunited band. I dare say the Dolls have a much better understanding of their place and influence in the “royal lineage of rock” than the author, whose final paragraph, admittedly, is tough to parse. If they were the most fun, and they still are the most fun, then what exactly don’t they understand?

  • gaywad

    ARe the new york dolls gay?